What are Some Different Drum Patterns?

Kristen Williams

Drum patterns refer to the rhythms executed on a drum kit, drum machines, and other percussion instruments. Drum patterns are produced by a series of strong and weak beats arranged in various combinations. Beats are often organized into meters, sometimes called time signatures, such as 4/4, 3/4, or 6/8. In the case of 4/4, the musician would repeatedly count 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4.

Most pop music drum patterns are based in 4/4 time.
Most pop music drum patterns are based in 4/4 time.

Meters are often used as a way to organize drum patterns and the beats within are attacked in a variety of ways. In 4/4 time, beats 1 and 3 are strong beats and are typically accented using the bass drum or crash cymbal. The weak beats, 2 and 4, are emphasized by the snare drum, other drums or percussion instruments. In 3/4 time, beat 1 is strong and beats 2 and 3 are weak. Some meters are associated with dance rhythms such as the waltz in 3/4 or the blues shuffle in 4/4. Beat one is often called downbeat while other beats are called upbeats. The difference being the type of accent and choice of percussion chosen to execute each beat. In addition, cymbals are often used to add to the character of strong and weak beats, as in, for example, the use of the crash cymbal on beat 1 or 3.

The tango is danced to a syncopated beat.
The tango is danced to a syncopated beat.

Beats could be described as ‘pulses moving in time.’ The most common beat is often the quarter note which is represented by the number 4 when referring to 3/4, for example. The top number refers to the number of beats, such as 1-2-3, 1-2-3. In slower tempos the eighth note is given the beat and labeled with the number 8. To clarify, the meter 6/8 has six beats (1-2-3-4-5-6) and has a typically a slower tempo. 6/8 is most often performed with a strong beat on beat 1 and then a week beat on beat 4. Meanwhile, beats 2-3 and 5-6 play unaccented beats on the hi-hat or ride cymbal.

When musicians want to further break down a beat they do so by saying “and.” The drummer may play the hi-hat on every beat, including the “and” (1+ 2+ 3+), while hitting the bass on beat one followed by the snare on beats 2 and 3. Musicians can further break down a beat by saying “1-e-and-a, 2-e-and-a.” This often happens during drum solos where the drummer plays a series of fast rolls on the tom-toms. For example, 1+ 2+ 3e-and-a 4-e-and-a.

Drum patterns are not always confined to strict repetitions and simple formulas. Musicians often play complex patterns that included free flowing rhythms. Often two instruments will play drum patterns which are accented against each other. This is called syncopation and be heard in any style but is quickly identified in reggae, Latin and jazz.

Many drummers incorporate free flowing rhythms into their drumming.
Many drummers incorporate free flowing rhythms into their drumming.

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Discussion Comments


I am learning drum rhythm patterns and I was wondering if anyone knew of any good resources for learning to play the drums. I don't have a lot of money, so I am hoping someone could recommend a good video lecture series or a few good books on the subject.


@ aplenty- Reggae is a ragged style so it is all about the skank (not in the terms we use the word in the states). The heavy hit of the drum beat is on the second and fourth beat in each bar. The rhythm guitar will follow in with an accent on the third beat or it will hold the second to the fourth. This is what gives reggae its iconic sound.


How is a Reggae beat constructed? It seems so complex to play. I am new to the drums, but I love reggae, I would love to learn the basic meters for a reggae beat. Can someone help me out?

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